Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia

Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (Riyadh Cricket Association)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
Special Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
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Cricket in Saudi Arabia, for decades, was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country. (AN Photo/Rashid Hassan)
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Updated 22 February 2024
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Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia

Cricket unites South Asian expats in second home Saudi Arabia
  • SACF has lined up several programs to promote the sport in KSA
  • Pakistani greats Wasin Akram and Shoaib Akhter have been in Riyadh and met the SACF chief

RIYADH: Cricket is a game that has an almost magical ability to unite South Asian expatriates in their second home Saudi Arabia.

On every weekend and whenever there is a time to play, mostly on public holidays, they gather at some grounds, parks and open spaces to play street cricket.

For decades, early-morning gatherings were the only way for the South Asian diaspora to play cricket.

Expatriates from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh had few entertainment options other than cricket in the Kingdom before social reforms in line with Saudi Vision 2030 were unveiled in 2016, so would play friendly matches.

For decades, cricket in Saudi Arabia was a game played almost exclusively by the South Asian diaspora, but now it is set to take a giant leap across the country, with the game’s ruling body in the Kingdom introducing a series of competitions and programs to encourage the nation’s youth to take up one of the world’s oldest and most popular sports.

The Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation, established in 2020, has lined up a series of major programs to promote the game among Saudis and expatriates in the Kingdom.

With Prince Saud bin Mishal Al-Saud as chairman of the federation, long-term plans have been put in place to ensure that Saudi Arabian national teams can compete with the world’s best in the future.

Arab News, in an exclusive interview, spoke to the diaspora from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who shared their memories and experiences of playing cricket in Saudi Arabia.

Mohammed Azimooddin Abdul Rahiman Karajagi, who is an ICC-certified curator and umpire, and head coach of the Riyadh Cricket Association, told Arab News: “I have seen cricket being played in this region for almost 25 years now. In the beginning there was very limited opportunity to play the game by expatriate communities from the South Asian countries, they would gather at some open space for a friendly match. Then club cricket started and now the SACF headed by Prince Saud is doing a lot for the development of cricket in the Kingdom, starting with the National Cricket Championship, the biggest ever cricket tournament in the history of Saudi Arabia.”

He added: “As result of the mega-competition a formidable Saudi national cricket team was formed and they went on to lift ACC Men’s Challenger Cup consecutively, last year and this year, taking the game to another level (and) now will play the Premier Cup to qualify for the Asia Cup.

“We, the cricket lovers in the Kingdom, congratulate the SACF for taking initiatives to develop the game; we are delighted to see that world-class cricketers are emerging from the Kingdom, and wish all the best to the Saudi team qualify not only to the Asia cup but also to the Cricket World Cup,” he said.

Arab News caught Syed Salman Hussain from Pakistan, who was busy in net practice at Mark Cricket Academy, which is affiliated to the RCA at its home ground in Al-Sulai Industrial Area, Al-Mashael District in Riyadh.

Hussain enjoys playing cricket whenever he has time off work, and hopes to play one day in the Saudi national cricket team.

On playing cricket in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, he said it is tougher here as the cricket kit is not fully available, and must be brought from his homeland. Moreover, to play on the grassless pitches in Riyadh is tough.

“Here the ground is full of stones and sand, as against green grassy playground in Bangladesh,” said Nojmul Hasan from Dhaka, blaming the sandy area beside a shopping mall’s parking lot for his team’s slow run buildup in a friendly match.

“There are no carefully manicured grass pitches for cricketers in this city carved out of the desert. In Riyadh, there is hardly any grass. But the good thing is, after the formation of the SACF, things are changing, we have heard that there is work in progress for turf wicket here, so that’s great news.”

Obaidullah Zaman from Afghanistan, who is working in Riyadh for several years and plays cricket with the Mark Cricket Academy in Al-Mashael District every Friday, is happy with the pace of change, saying: “We are really excited to see the development around cricket in Saudi Arabia with the federation planning to have professional cricket academies, more grounds, better facilities with entertainment and other services around them to attract Saudi as well as the diaspora to the game. I look forward to finding a place in the national team either here or in my Afghan team, so I come religiously to practice at my academy and be prepared to play the matches organized by the RCA.”

Mohamed Sauky, a Sri Lankan expat playing cricket in Riyadh, told Arab News: “We are very passionate about cricket. My favorite cricketer is Angelo Mathews from Sri Lanka. One day I aspire to be like him and represent the national team, therefore, I participate in all the training sessions by the RCA and as a result I am the highest wicket taker so far this season. With the coaching facilities, practice sessions on the net and practice matches, we are enhancing our skill. Playing together, we the South Asian diaspora enjoy our diversity and share our experiences to help each other in enhancing the skill to become a better player.”

Kannan K. Gopi, an Indian who has lived here for decades and plays cricket, was selected in the Saudi national cricket team to play the 40 overs tournament, but could not join because of the age factor. He still joins the players in the practice sessions and also coaches new players aspiring to be professional cricketers making it to the national team.

Sharing old memories, Gopi said: “Earlier, expats formed some clubs to play the game, now things are progressing well. We are looking forward to our favorite sport taking a big leap in the Kingdom, with the SACF keen to introduce a series of programs and domestic leagues.”

Speaking to Arab News last year regarding the plans, Prince Saud said: “Saudi Arabia is the biggest country in the region with the biggest number of teams and players. So there will be leagues on all levels. We have developed throughout our time in the federation great relationships with the International Cricket Council, the global governing body of cricket, and the Asian Cricket Council, the organization that promotes and develops the sport of cricket in Asia, as well as some successful international cricket boards and big cricketers globally.”

High-profile figures from the world of cricket have offered their expertise and backing for cricket in the Kingdom.

Pakistani greats Wasin Akram and Shoaib Akhter, Indian pacer Irfan Pathan, and British cricketer Kevin Pietersen have been in Riyadh and met the SACF chief to discuss cricket and share expertise on how to develop the game.


Saudi FA to review fan code of conduct after supporter appears to whip player

Saudi FA to review fan code of conduct after supporter appears to whip player
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Saudi FA to review fan code of conduct after supporter appears to whip player

Saudi FA to review fan code of conduct after supporter appears to whip player
  • Incident took place at the end of Al-Ittihad’s defeat by Al-Hilal in the Saudi Super Cup in Abu Dhabi
  • Footage shows Al-Ittihad striker Abderrazak Hamdallah throw water at a fan, who then strikes the player twice with what looks like a whip
RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) is to review its spectator code of conduct after a supporter appeared to whip an Al-Ittihad player.

The incident took place at the end of Al-Ittihad’s defeat by Al-Hilal in the Saudi Super Cup in Abu Dhabi.

Footage shows Al-Ittihad striker Abderrazak Hamdallah throw water at a fan, who then strikes the player twice with what looks like a whip.

The SAFF said it was “shocked with the disgraceful scenes.”

Moroccan Hamdallah scored for his side as they lost 4-1.

“Football in Saudi Arabia is a family game and, thankfully, fan disorder is extremely rare,” said the SAFF.

“It’s why the actions of this ‘so called’ fan go against all that Saudi football represents and we completely condemn the incident.

“There will be a thorough review of the spectator code of conduct. The review will ensure updated rules and regulations are put in place to swiftly and effectively impose suitable penalties to help avoid any repeat of such incidents.”

Saudi Arabia’s ACC Premier Cup semifinal hopes intact after action on day 4

Saudi Arabia’s ACC Premier Cup semifinal hopes intact after action on day 4
Updated 15 April 2024
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Saudi Arabia’s ACC Premier Cup semifinal hopes intact after action on day 4

Saudi Arabia’s ACC Premier Cup semifinal hopes intact after action on day 4
  • Nepal’s victory over Hong Kong cemented their place in the semifinals
  • Outcome of Group B, as with Group A, will go down to the wire

AL-AMARAT: More rain arrived to influence the ACC Premier Cup competition on day four. A shower at about 8 a.m. caused a late start in the two morning matches, reduced to 18 overs per team.

In the Group A match between Nepal and Hong Kong, the latter was asked to bat. A steady start to 48 for two after seven overs became 82 for four from 13 overs. After that, wickets tumbled, the innings subsiding to 114 all out.

In reply, Nepal raced to 68 for no loss from five overs. The loss of two wickets in the sixth over did little to stop the charge, 117 being reached in the 13th over. Nepal’s victory cemented their place at the top of the group and a place in the semifinals.

The second Group A match of the day saw Malaysia face Qatar, who had yet to register a win. Malaysia were asked to bat, reaching 82 for two in 11 overs. Despite losing two quick wickets, the fifth-wicket partnership prospered so well that a total of 151 for five was achieved.

Qatar’s response was positive and, at the midway stage, half of the required target had been scored. Slow bowlers then stifled Qatar’s progress to 113 for four from 13 overs, with the result in the balance. In the next three overs the required acceleration was injected, so that only five runs were required in the final over, duly achieved with a straight six.

This result injected a new dynamic into Group A, in which four teams each have two points. At the end of day four, Saudi lead the way by virtue of a superior net run rate, with two matches left to play, against Qatar and Nepal. If Qatar are beaten, then Saudi are likely to qualify for the semifinals. If not, the door would be open for one of the other sides, each with one left to play. One unpredictable variable is the possible influence of rain on match completion.

The rain returned after the morning matches on day four. The distant hills to the south were not visible. Oman’s experienced curator, who has had eight years in Oman, revealed that he had never seen rain like this in April. Normally, rain comes from the west, but the current rain is arriving from the south and southeast. Fortunately, it cleared after an hour, and two Group B matches, reduced to 15 overs per side, commenced.

On Turf A, Oman asked the UAE to bat. Prolific batter Alishan Sharafu was out second ball, a second wicket falling in the second over. Muhammad Waseem was then partnered by Asif Khan in an 88-run stand. Khan continued in his attacking mode until a last-ball dismissal for 66 saw the UAE total 145 for five, Bilal Khan claiming three for 11.

Oman’s response was dismissive, Kashyap Prajapati and Naseem Khushi racing to 67 in 4.4 overs, before Khushi was dismissed. Khalid Kail continued the onslaught, scoring 50 from 23 deliveries, while Prajapati eased to 53 not out from 147 for the loss of a single wicket, with 14 deliveries to spare.

Two of the UAE’s ILT20 bowlers, Aayan Khan and Junaid Siddique, were heavily punished.

Oman’s comprehensive victory means that they top Group B, with six points from three games, to almost certainly secure a semifinal slot. The UAE have four points from three matches, with a final match against pointless Cambodia, whom they are heavy favorites to beat.

On Turf B, Kuwait were asked to bat by Bahrain and lost five wickets in reaching 79. No. 3 batter, M. Bhavsar, held firm with 54 before being the seventh wicket to fall. Late hitting by B. Tahir, 40 not out, took the total to 161 for seven.

In reply, Bahrain lost two early wickets for 24 and a third on 35, all to Yasin Patel who conceded only eight runs. Some middle-order hitting was not enough and the innings closed on 135 for six.

The result puts Kuwait on equal points (four) with the UAE. Kuwait have a superior net run rate, but have to play Oman in their final match. The outcome of Group B, as with Group A, will go to the wire.


FEI World Cup comes to Riyadh: Meet the Saudi riders

FEI World Cup comes to Riyadh: Meet the Saudi riders
Updated 15 April 2024
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FEI World Cup comes to Riyadh: Meet the Saudi riders

FEI World Cup comes to Riyadh: Meet the Saudi riders
  • Riyadh will be hosting the prestigious FEI event for the first time since winning the bid in 2019

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian capital is gearing up to welcome the global equestrian community for the Federation Equestre Internationale Jumping World Cup Finals this weekend.

Riyadh will be hosting the prestigious FEI event for the first time since winning the bid in 2019. According to the international body, it is also a first for the Arabian peninsula region.

The finals will run from April 17 to April 20 at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center, with a total prize pool of €2.6 million ($2.7 million) up for grabs.

Three Saudi champions who qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics — Abdullah Al-Sharbatly, Ramzy Al-Duhami and Khaled Al-Motby — will compete in this weekend’s showjumping competition.

Arab News joined the riders behind the scenes at the stables, as the pressure mounts for the trio to secure their country a medal.

“I’ve got my, superstars, my best friends, Alamo and Fiumicino, two horses,” Al-Sharbatly said.

The 41-year-old Olympic medallist was part of the showjumping team that won Saudi Arabia a bronze medal during the 2012 London Olympics. In late 2023, he secured his sixth Asian gold medal.

Riyadh will be hosting the prestigious FEI event for the first time since winning the bid in 2019. (AN Photo/Abdulrahman bin Shulhub)

Despite this impressive record, Al-Sharbatly believes that fate also plays a part.

“In any sport you can’t win every day. And you also need a little bit of luck,” he said. “So it could be my show and it can be also that I want to have the best luck in this show.”

For Al-Sharbatly, the most important thing is that he will be surrounded by the animals he loves.

“I have so much love for horses,” he said. “Even if I don’t ride, it’s not a problem, but I have to be surrounded with horses every day.”

Al-Duhami said: “As you grow older in this sport, you get more experience and your goals change.”

The 52-year-old Saudi Olympic medalist, a revered rider in the Kingdom, has competed for decades, dating back to the 1980s. He competed in the 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, where he received the bronze medal with the Saudi team.

“It’s not anymore about winning any event, but you want to win this big, major event, and then your focus becomes that, instead of just winning every weekend and trying to get a result every weekend,” he said.

Al-Duhami said that there was “a lot of hope” for the coming finals, though the focus has been the Olympics. He described his horse, Untouchable 32, as a “very good Olympic-caliber horse.”

He has witnessed the equestrian scene develop first-hand. From first discovering horses as a child through his late father, who financially invested in horses for him, to now watching the federation take on that crucial, parental-like role for the younger generation.

Three Saudi champions who qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics — Abdullah Al-Sharbatly, Ramzy Al-Duhami and Khaled Al-Motby — will compete in this weekend’s showjumping competition. (AN Photo/Abdulrahman bin Shulhub) 

For Al-Duhami, the World Cup is more than just a sports milestone for Saudi Arabia.

“Bringing this event to Saudi is is one step, for this young generation to come and see their role models in front of their eyes,” he said.

“And seeing their home country riders competing will give them the ambition and the possibility to think that ‘OK, now we can do it.”

Al-Duhami believes that hosting this event will enable a rich cultural exchange that can contribute in positive ways to the growth of the equestrian scene in Saudi Arabia.

“There is a lot of talent. The Saudi riders are very talented, and if they have given the chance to come and compete, they will always perform,” he said.

One of the riders Al-Duhami referred to is Al-Mobty. At only 25-years-old, Al-Mobty will be rubbing shoulders with the Kingdom’s and Arab world’s best competitors, as well as international champions, over the course of the weekend.

In 2018, he, together with Al-Sharbatly and Al-Duhami, brought home a gold medal from the Asian Games in Jakarta.

He described the results as one of his proudest achievements, coupled with the “gold medal in Ashgabat with the Saudi team, a silver medal in the Ashgabat tournament. Winning an individual gold medal in the Saudi Games Championship and winning a team gold medal in the Saudi Games Championship.”

This weekend’s tournament is indoors, which can pose a challenge for some showjumpers.

“They are always the hardest due to space limitations, and there will be greater pressure on the horses since it is a closed venue with an unfamiliar audience,” Al-Mobty said.

Al-Mobty said that despite these hurdles, he is hopeful that they will all perform well.


Day 3 of Fencing World Championships sees new champions

Vctorious women’s under-20 foil team was honored during the ongoing event in Riyadh. SPA
Vctorious women’s under-20 foil team was honored during the ongoing event in Riyadh. SPA
Updated 15 April 2024
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Day 3 of Fencing World Championships sees new champions

Vctorious women’s under-20 foil team was honored during the ongoing event in Riyadh. SPA
  • The American team dominated the men’s under-20 foil team

Riyadh: Abdullah Al-Sunaid, CEO of the 2024 Junior and Cadet Fencing World Championships, crowned the victorious women’s under-20 foil team during the ongoing event in Riyadh. 

The Japanese team emerged triumphant, securing the gold medal after a thrilling victory over Italy, who won silver. The Republic of Korea claimed the bronze, with France also clinching bronze and securing the third position in the intense competitions held at the King Saud University Sports Arena.

In the men’s events, Mohammed Chaouchi, president of the Tunisian Fencing Federation, honored the winners of the third day. The American team dominated the men’s under-20 foil team, seizing the gold medal by defeating Italy, who took silver. Japan secured the bronze, while France also claimed the bronze and secured the third spot on the podium.


Wehrlein wins Misano E-Prix after last-lap heartbreak for Rowland

Wehrlein wins Misano E-Prix after last-lap heartbreak for Rowland
Updated 15 April 2024
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Wehrlein wins Misano E-Prix after last-lap heartbreak for Rowland

Wehrlein wins Misano E-Prix after last-lap heartbreak for Rowland
  • Victory for TAG Heuer Porsche driver was the sixth of his Formula E career
  • Reigning champion Jake Dennis claims second place for Andretti Formula E Team, Nick Cassidy of Jaguar TCS Racing secures third

MISANO: The Misano E-Prix saw Pascal Wehrlein of the TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team emerge triumphant after an intense battle for Round 7 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship on Sunday night.

At the second leg of the inaugural Misano E-Prix double-header, Wehrlein made amends for TAG Heuer Porsche’s poor performance in the first race on Saturday. His first-place trophy from Round 7 is the sixth of his Formula E career, following a heartbreaking last-lap miscalculation that resulted in the then-race leader Oliver Rowland running out of energy and retiring.

Reigning ABB FIA Formula E World Champion Jake Dennis of the Andretti Formula E Team secured second place, while Jaguar TCS Racing’s Nick Cassidy clinched third place at the flag by five hundredths of a second, in front of a 25,000-strong crowd.

Wehrlein’s triumph has him tied with Dennis at the top of the Drivers’ standings, with previous leader Rowland falling to third. Meanwhile, Jaguar TCS Racing leads the Teams’ table by a significant margin.

“Yesterday would have been better to win but I’m very happy about the race today,” Wehrlein said. “It was quite chaotic again in the beginning until mid-race. I wasn’t sure if I should stay in the lead or let Oli (Rowland) through the pace. His pace seemed a bit weird and too fast to try and defend so I didn’t defend him much. I was a bit surprised by his energy, I wasn’t sure if the team had the correct information or not. But in the end, it proved to be the right thing to do. It was a lot of managing; the energy, the battery, the tires. Just everything.

“It goes quickly from zero to hero, we know that in Formula E. I think we had the pace this weekend to win both races. Unfortunately yesterday with these kinds of races I was a bit of a victim with my front wing and then being at the back, but today was a big redemption for us.”

Round 8 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship will be the 2024 Monaco E-Prix on Saturday, April 27.